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Dec 16, 2011 10:35 AM

Duckavore Dinner at Wong Review + Photos

Photos in context are here:

My foodie friend Lucy (of cheeryvisage fame) read about Wong‘s Duckavore Dinner on a thread here and sent the link to a couple of us. Tempted by the promise of the duckiest meal we’ve ever had (even the dessert!), our friend Tiffany made a reservation for four with the required 48 hours notice, and we converged in the West Village restaurant amid candles, school desks, and beakers for a wildly successful large-format meal that was more than just novelty.

• bread
Although quite confusing at first, the bread service perfectly set the tone for the meal. We still have no idea why one piece of bread was puffed and one wasn’t, and we couldn’t find any of the cheese the server mentioned, but the four of us were in agreement that whatever it was, it was delicious. The bread was soft and warm and was so good on its own we didn’t need the sweet and sour curry sauce on the side but appreciated it, especially when combined with a basil leaf.

• duck sung choy bao
The words “fish sauce” haven’t exactly inspired confidence in me in the past, but this could change my mind. Our server told us the chef recommends using the lettuce to form wraps around the pulled duck pieces, but our lettuce all seemed to be fused together and impossible to separate for wrap-making; most of us used forks and knives and treated it like a salad. And what a salad it was, with elements fresh and crispy, sweet and spicy, citrusy and crunchy.

• duck bun with Chinese celery and cucumber
Three words: deep-fried bun. I was definitely looking forward to this course most, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t wholly satisfied by it in the end, but the bread sure was interesting. It had the thinnest crispy layer covering its exterior and just oozed oil all over my hands. The duck just couldn’t stand up to it, though; it was underseasoned and therefore underflavored, and there wasn’t enough sauce on the bun to make up for it. I did like the near-pickled cucumber, though, and you can’t beat those soft Chinese buns no matter what.

• duck meatball with squash
It was so unfair that there were only two of these for the table, because I needed four for myself. The sauce was so deliciously chunky and left such an unexpected heat in my mouth. The squash had the texture of a cooked apple and added a little necessary sweetness to balance the dish. I’m not sure I understand why paneer was used over a more traditional cheese, but I loved the added flavor and texture.

• whole Long Island duck in lotus leaves
One of the chefs presented us with the whole duck before taking it back to the kitchen, carving it up, and bringing it back in pieces on a tray with sides of greens and rice.

• duck slices with greens
In a word, the duck was incredible; all four of us were murmuring and nodding through our entire portions. I’m a big fan of tasting menus because the initial punch of a dish usually wears off for me after a couple of bites, but the sauce on the duck was a gift that kept on giving. It was sweet and rich, like a barbeque sauce for a dark, stormy night. The duck was tender enough not to need a knife, and the skin, though not crispy, melted in my mouth like it had been roasting all day.

• 8-treasure sticky rice
I loved the rice in theory but only liked it in practice. It was so chock full of fruit and nuts that it should have been bursting with flavor, but it seemed underseasoned to me. When the juices from the duck touched it, though, it took on the same deep, savory flavors, so when I go back for this dinner the second (and third and fourth) time, I’m going to pile my rice high with duck.

• duck broth
This was far too hot to drink when it was served to us, so we had to sit and wait for it to cool while the fat congealed on top. It was certainly the duckiest part of the meal, and the thick, oily broth stayed on our lips long after our cups were empty.

• duck a la plum: roast duck ice cream, star-anise-poached plums, crispy tuile
Almost everyone I’ve mentioned the duck ice cream to has been skeptical, so I’m not sure why I went into this thinking it was going to be the best dessert ever. (Was it Wylie Dufresne’s delicious everything bagel ice cream that convinced me?) Of course I was right, though; it was ice cream, all right, but instead of being flavored with chocolate or mint or caramel, it was flavored with duck, and it was excellent. Maybe it works because we’re so used to covering our meat with sweet sauces for savory courses, anyway, but everyone agreed that it did indeed work. The flavor was pretty intense, though, so the golf-ball-sized scoop was just the right amount. The super-crunchy caramelized tuile was another highlight, both in flavor and texture, and we all liked the floral notes of the plum.

• five-spice cookie
We almost seemed to like this simple cookie as much as the plated dessert, but how could we not love shortbread in duck fat?

• plum chaser
Lucy accurately described this as a sort of plum soda; it reminded my boyfriend and me of the homemade sodas at the Jean-Georges restaurants that are really the whole point of dining there. It was light and refreshing, perfectly topping off the heavy meal.

my rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It seems like the thing to do in Manhattan these days is to lure customers in with whole suckling pigs, whole lambs, and timballo enough to feed 14 people. In my experience, those dinners are exciting novelties that don’t really hold up in the taste department. I have an inkling that Wong was attempting to gain some attention by attempting the same sort of idea, but I think they were much more successful. Not only was everything delicious, but we got to try so many iterations of the protein; it wasn’t just appetizer, main, dessert. This is also the first time in my experience that the meal had a theme that was carried out from start to finish, and now the idea of having an unrelated pie with my whole suckling pig seems like a cop-out. At $60 per person, with friendly service and a casual candlelit atmosphere, I can definitely imagine myself coming back for this dinner just to be able to watch three more friends get to enjoy it.

7 Cornelia St, New York, NY 10014

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  1. Some thoughts from me. For me, the standouts of the night were the bread, the duck sung choy bao, and the duck ice cream.

    The bread course was indeed delicious like Katie said. Even though it did not need any condiments, I thought the curry sauce went beautifully with the bread. I looked back at my photo, there actually were some white crumbly things in the curry. I'm guessing that was the cheese.

    The Duck Sung Choy Bao is basically the duck version of the more common chicken lettuce wrap (生菜包). I managed to eat it as a wrap rather than salad and it was somewhat messy. But wow, the flavors just burst in my mouth. I especially enjoyed the crunchy peanuts and the pungent, but wonderful fish sauce.

    In addition to what Katie said about the Duck a la Plum, I also really liked the density of the ice cream. It was like a concentrated little ball of creamy deliciousness. The server also mentioned that the plum soda contained sake, but even I, who is alcohol-sensitive, did not really react to the alcohol. So, I guess the actual sake amount is miniscule.

    The Eight Treasure Rice traditionally is a sweet, rice pudding-like dish in Chinese cuisine ( Even though I didn't expect Wong's version to be sweet, I was also let down by the rather boring take on it. I wasn't entirely sure the rice served at this dinner actually contained eight different dried fruit / nut ingredients either.

    If it were up to me, I'd have forgone the Eight Treasure Sticky Rice, and served noodles in the Duck Broth that followed. That duck broth was so intensely ducky and rich that the natural Asian thing to do would have been to make a noodle dish out of it. Or, maybe even a duck wonton soup.

    All in all, a great meal. Thanks to Kathryn who originally mentioned the duckavore dinner on a recent thread. We got to enjoy a most duckalicous dinner.

    The photos I took of the same meal can be found here:

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cheeryvisage

      You're right about the ice cream. Some of the creamiest, densest stuff I've had!

    2. Thanks for the review! I'm totally starving and drooling after reading your post. Like many other 'hounds, I'm a duck fiend. Surprised that duck ice cream worked out so well though - wouldn't have expected it.

      Probably a stupid question, but plumpdumpling, what are you doing in your profile picture? Sorry, I've been curious for a while and I gotta ask!

      15 Replies
      1. re: uwsister

        Haha, I don't know why that question struck me as funny, but it did. I'm licking my lips after reading Chowhound posts in my profile picture! Always hungry, you know.

        The duck ice cream is on the regular menu, so I think I'd order it next time at Wong even if I don't do the duckavore. Now I'm curious to see if you like it.

        1. re: plumpdumpling

          I see. I'm glad you found it funny, instead of off-putting :)

          My husband's really not a fan of Chinese food and he's my main dining partner, so I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to try Wong. Maybe I could lure him with Duckavore Dinner though - he is also a duck fiend.

          1. re: uwsister

            I'm not a fan of Chinese food either, uws. So, even though Mr. R. loves it, we rarely eat Chinese. However, I think Wong is Pan-Asian rather than Chinese, which tends to be more to my liking.


            1. re: uwsister

              I'm with your husband and RGR! Chinese is usually the last kind of food I crave, but this wasn't any of the thick sauces and breading I usually associate with it. I found a lot of the flavors Thai-ish, if that helps.

              1. re: plumpdumpling

                For a person who loves Chinese food, it's always depressing to hear the associations it has in the US and you are actually being very kind in comparison to other comments I've heard.

                1. re: Pookipichu

                  Katie actually dined at Chinatown Brasserie recently. She told me last night that she really enjoyed the dim sum and the peking duck. There's hope for Chinese food in the US!

                  1. re: Cheeryvisage

                    I dated someone who had never eaten Chinese food before and gave the reasoning that it's "common knowledge" dog and cat meat are used in most of the dishes.

                    I'm glad Katie had a good experience at Chinatown Brasserie. Every time I've ordered the duck it's been great, I don't want to jinx anyone though!

                    1. re: Pookipichu

                      It's hard to remember that it's not all sweet and sour chicken from places called #1 Chinese, but yes, Chinatown Brasserie was my first peking duck, and it definitely impressed! I never thought I'd enjoy meat on the bone that much.

                      1. re: plumpdumpling

                        Meat on the bone is always superior to boneless cuts. I have a lot of American friends with a similar fear and it always perplexes me.

                  2. re: Pookipichu

                    I've taken my husband to China, best dim sum restaurants in L.A. (Elite and Sea Harbor,) high-end Chinese restaurants in Seoul, and he's still not a fan of Chinese food, unfortunately. So for him it's not about thick, gloppy sauces and breading, etc. I wish I appreciated it more too. I think I'm gonna try Chinatown Brasserie after reading your post on the other thread for the duck and dim sum if I can find a duck fiend among my friends to go with me. Duckavore dinner doesn't sound like something two people can do though, right?

                    RGR and ellenost, enjoy your dinner and do let us know what you thought!

                    1. re: uwsister

                      You're right--it's only for four people, Wednesday through Sunday.


                      1. re: kathryn

                        Wong is now closed on Sunday, so the "Duckavore" dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday. 48 hours advance notice is required.


                2. re: uwsister

                  I believe Chef Simpson Wong is actually from Malaysia. (He also runs Cafe Asean.) They describe the food at Wong as Asian-localvore and are influenced by a lot of different Asian cuisines.

                  Also, I definitely think the duck a la plum is one of my favorite dishes of 2011. Pastry Chef Judy Chen used to work at Daniel.

              2. re: uwsister

                Couldn't agree more, looks delicious. Signed, "Duck Fiend".

                1. re: Pookipichu

                  This dinner has made of the duck freaks come out of the woodwork. I love it!

              3. Thanks to both you and Lucy for the great report. RGR, Mr. R, my sister and I are going tonight for the Duckavore dinner at Wong. At least I'll have an idea of the great things being served.

                14 Replies
                  1. re: ellenost

                    Oh, that's awesome! What a fun dinner for a Chowhound gathering. Tell us how you like it!

                      1. re: ellenost

                        Loved last night's Duckavore dinner at Wong! Very happy with all of the dishes. We didn't get the plum chaser at the end of the meal. The puffy bread was warm and delicious. Loved the curry dipping sauce. I definitely could not manage to make a wrap with the lettuce leaves (mine were not stuck together), and ate the dish as a salad. Loved the duck bun (especially the bun--so deliciously crispy!). Found the duck had a very good flavor. Loved the duck meatball and its sauce too. Didn't mind sharing it. The presentation of the whole duck was very dramatic, and the sliced duck was delicious. Skin was perfectly rendered, and even though it was not crispy, it had a great flavor. Plenty of duck for 4 people. Happy with both the side greens and the rice. Loved the duck broth, even though the cups were too hot to hold without using the napkin. Perfect for a cold night. LOVED the duck ice cream with sliced plums! Somehow after such a rich dinner, the ice cream with a distinct yet not overwhelming duck flavor was a perfect end to a truly terrific 2 hour dinner with wonderful people! The restaurant was full when we left. Service was very attentive and friendly. Definitely will return. Highly recommend the Duckavore dinner!

                        1. re: ellenost

                          To everything you've written here, ellenost, a hearty "Amen!" The food really exceeded my expectations. If I had to pick my favorite, it would the duck bun. Fantastic! Though close on its heels was the whole duck. But what made the evening especially enjoyable was sharing the dinner with you and your sister. Always marvelous company! :)

                          Duckavore Dinner photos:

                          P.S. Great idea doing the ice cream "chaser" at Cones! :))

                          Cones photos:


                          1. re: RGR

                            Interesting, looks like the duck buns from our dinner were just an one-off miss. They must have forgotten to sauce ours or something, the duck meat was weirdly bland. Glad to know they were fantastic for your meal!

                            1. re: Cheeryvisage

                              Far from bland. That duck meat in the bun was extremely juicy. The cucumber and celery added just the right crunch. And then there was that incredibly delicious bun.

                              You'll also notice that they served the shortbread in the same bowl with the ice cream rather than separately as was done at your dinner.

                              I do wonder why we didn't get the plum chaser. Not really a big deal, but if I had remembered that you'd had it, I would have asked our server about it.


                              1. re: RGR

                                The plum soda was a nice and refreshing drink to end the meal. Yeah, it'd have been great if you guys had gotten to try it.

                                I found this pic of the Duck a la Plum from the regular menu, the portion seems double the one we all had as part of the duckavore dinner ( ). Hah, as an ice cream fiend, I would not have minded another scoop of the delectable treat.

                                1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                  One would expect a larger portion of the ice cream when ordering from the a la carte. The four of us agreed that while the ice cream wasn't overly sweet, it was exceedingly rich. Thus, we felt that the portion was quite adequate and just the right size after what was the quite generous amount of food that preceded it.

                                  Mr. R. and I are definitely planning to return to check out the regular menu.


                                  1. re: RGR

                                    By the way, RGR, the pics look really nice. Did you get a new camera? The restaurant is really quite dim, yet your photos have no noises! You've mentioned that you don't do any post-processing to photos, those straight out of camera photos are freaking good.

                                    1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                      You've got a really good eye, Cheeryvisage! Yes, I do have a new camera, a Sony nex-5. It's got interchangeable lenses and is much more sophisticated than my "old" point-and-shoot, so it's taking a lot of getting used to, especially when the lighting is problematical. I did not, of course, include the photos that didn't turn out so well, and there were quite a few of those. We were at Tocqueville this evening, and the lighting was a nightmare. Even dimmer than at Wong and with those salmon-colored walls -- Oy! I tried different settings and adjustments. Haven't uploaded the photos yet, so we shall see....


                                      1. re: RGR

                                        Tocqueville's lighting kills me! I'm like, come on, guys, I'm trying to convince people that you're the best restaurant ever and deserve a Michelin star, and all of my pictures look like dog food!

                                        Glad you all had an enjoyable meal, and now I want to go back for a do-over with the duck buns.

                                        1. re: plumpdumpling

                                          Tocqueville does have certain tables that are perfectly positioned under lights. Where I was seated in this photo (, for example, was great for photography. However, it was awfully close to another table (there were maybe 3 inches of space between the two tables).

                                          1. re: plumpdumpling

                                            At Tocqueville, we were sitting where we usually sit, on the corner banquette on the right side of the room. We go most often for lunch, and it's very bright., so great for taking photos with any camera. This is the first time in ages that we'd been there for dinner. Wow! They *really* turn down the lights!!! That in conjunction with the salmon-colored walls made things very difficult. My camera has so many different settings, many of which we were not yet aware of. The two settings we tried didn't work out very well. After we got home, Mr. R. discovered another setting that would probably have been much better. Ironically, I also brought along my point-and-shoot, and the photos I took with it came out better with regard to the lighting. So, I used that set and inserted just a few of the best photos from the new camera.

                                            Tocqueville photos:

                                            Btw, while Tocqueville doesn't get much business at lunch, dinner on a Saturday night is an entirely different matter. Busy, busy, busy! When we arrived at 9:45 p.m., the main dining room was full, there were diners in the upstairs dining room, and there were people eating in the bar area.

                                            Also, they are fully-booked for Christmas Day.


                    1. Echoing ellenost, Mr. R. and I very much appreciated your report and the additional input from Lucy. It's also great being able to see what the food will look like (and the view of the room in Lucy's set) from the excellent photos both of you took. We're salivating....

                      ellenost, See you soon! :)


                      8 Replies
                      1. re: RGR

                        Maybe you have the kind of clout that will get you a whole meatball per person, too, instead of two people having to share one. Make it happen!

                        1. re: plumpdumpling

                          Hah, yeah. That WAS strange, wasn't it? Now that I think about it, the four of us also had to share 2 pieces of bread. Why not one for each of us? Did they think it'd be too much food otherwise? Granted, it was indeed a lot of food even with the sharing.

                          1. re: Cheeryvisage

                            Silly question, but from the photos I couldn't tell whether each person gets their own duck bun and dessert, or are they to be shared.

                            1. re: ellenost

                              Each person gets their own duck bun and dessert. The only items that are shared are the bread, meatball, and the whole roast duck.

                              1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                As I understand it, there is one whole duck for four diners. Suppose there are 6 at the table? The dinner sounds quite delicious.

                                1. re: erica

                                  Yes, one duck for four people. It was presented whole and then taken back to the kitchen to be cut up. When it was returned, there was just enough for the four of us. There's no way that duck would feed six people. The entire dinner is designed for four, not six.


                                  1. re: RGR

                                    Thanks, RGR, both for that and for all your fabulous reviews here.

                                    1. re: erica

                                      You're welcome, erica. And I'm very flattered by your compliment. :)

                                      Back to the Duckavore for a minute. They could easily expand the other courses to accommodate six people, but they'd need a much larger duck for that course. Obviously, though, they decided that they prefer to limit it to four people. The night we were there (a Friday in December), I didn't notice anyone else having the Duckavore. Perhaps, word hadn't spread yet that it was available. But now that Wong has been reviewed by the "Times," and Wells has written about the Duckavore (vs. duck at Ssam Bar) in the Diner's Journal, I'm guessing it will become more popular.


                      2. And Pete Wells, the new restaurant critic of the New York Times pits Wong's Duckavore dinner against Momofuku Ssam Bar's duck lunch!


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Cheeryvisage

                          Interesting writeup, though there are a couple of cheats.

                          One, there is dessert across the street at Milk bar. It counts in my book.

                          Most importantly, the duck at Momofuku has a layer of sausage under the skin that is made with both duck meat AND PORK. Of course. Just when you think something good at momofuku might actually be kosher-friendly.